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Creating Art out of Experience: By Thomas O. MeehanGo Back to the Table of Contents
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Later, established in his rural setting as a recognized writer and member of the community, the mature Naipaul discovers poetic dimension in the seemingly mundane procession of seasons, the flux of the weather, and the vivid unself-consciousness of the country people. He finds that there is nothing quaint about his neighbors. We too come to know them through Naipaul’s gradual peeling away of appearances, cutting to that intimacy rendered only through the sharing a landscape of loneliness.

We encounter Naipaul’s secretive landlord. We walk the chilly heath with him and through repetition feel the open droveways’ brooding solitude and the splendor of the water meadows. Naipaul’s art lies in taking us on the same walks through the countryside again and again without pall. Without this ability to internalize a place through repetition, we would not feel the drama of the many changes in landscape, mood and weather when they come. Without continuity, there can be no sense of dislocation. When dislocation does come to the land, and to his neighbors, we feel it, as Naipaul did, without need of explanation.

After ten years on the Salisbury plain, Naipaul must move. In the course of a decade, all that surrounds him has changed. His landlord and several neighbors are now dead or gone, the land itself is transformed. Naipaul comes to terms with the persistence of change and recognizes in it no enemy. His reconciliation with this aspect of the human condition is told through the story of his neighbor Jack:

Jack himself had disregarded the tenuousness of his hold on the land, just as, not seeing what others saw, he had created a garden on the edge of a swamp and a ruined farmyard; had responded to and found glory in the seasons. All around him was ruin; and all around in a deeper way was change, and a reminder of the brevity of the cycles of growth and creation. But he had sensed that life and man were the true mysteries; and he had asserted the primacy of these with something like religion. The bravest and most religious thing about his life was his way of dying: the way he had asserted, at the very end, the primacy not of what was beyond life, but life itself.

Here, Naipaul is struggling to describe a spirituality based on the everyday experience of nature and of humanity--a nature too vast to be encompassed in our short, imperfect lives. Naipaul creates a religion of acceptance and endurance and a poetry born of the need to face this life, as it is, with wonder and the compassion born of insight. Behaviors become rituals; the continuity of our time on earth, tradition; our struggles before the vast processes of nature, sanctity; our character in facing each change, grace. Thus the substance of art is the substance of life itself against the vast backdrop of eternal nature’s silent determination.

Thus in a literary world dominated by the belief that everything has already been said, Naipaul insists that the world is yet there, to be seen afresh each dawn and be declared in the mind of the beholder with each setting of the sun. The artist must first accept before he can create--and in turn, understand and come to know both mortality and destruction. He must “... cultivate old, possibly ancestral ways of feeling, the ways of glory dead, and hold on to the idea of a world in flux: the drum of creation in the god’s right hand, the flame of destruction in his left.” In an era in which the drive for originality can be the mask of vanity, and in which our natural capacity for wonder is perverted into an addiction to novelty, Naipual’s insight into the mystery and sanctity of coming to terms with reality is a gift to the creative artist.


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